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Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)


"Being Jewish in the Highlands"

15-18 February 2015
Being Jewish in Aberdeen

The recent tragic events in Europe added an extra relevance to SCoJeC’s What’s Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland tour of the Highlands with author J David Simons.

David was talking about his Glasgow to Galilee trilogy to appreciative audiences, in the very appropriate settings of Aberdeen Synagogue, Inverness Library, and The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool, while SCoJeC’s Projects and Outreach Manager, Fiona Frank, led discussion groups about the changing experience of being Jewish in Scotland, as part of a Scottish Government funded follow-up to our original research project.

Being Jewish in Ullapool

One lady had seen the notice of the event in the local paper and wondered whether it is still safe to announce Jewish activities in the press. Another asked participants whether they had thought twice, as she had, about whether it would be safe to come to a Jewish event. One man told us that if he gets a taxi to the synagogue he just asks for the street and never actually says where he’s going. One father was very proud that his young son called out excitedly “My dad’s Jewish!” during a school assembly about Judaism, but the child’s non-Jewish mother, was worried in case there might be repercussions. Another lady told us that the local Church elders had complained that washing was hung out on Sundays, but when it was explained to them that the family was Jewish, and couldn't do the laundry on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the elders were happy to accept it.

Being Jewish in Ullapool

At each of the venues there were people who had lived in Israel, had relatives in Israel, or whose children had worked in Israel, demonstrating the deep connections between the Jewish people of Scotland and the Jewish state. One group had a lively discussion about the connections between antisemitism and the actions of the government of Israel; a Jewish woman who had spent several years in Israel felt that Netanyahu's recent pronouncement that Jews of Europe could go to Israel to live in safety was not helpful because "it does bring the problem to us."

After each Being Jewish in Scotland discussion, J David Simons talked about his novels. The Credit Draper, the first in the series, is set against the background of early Jewish immigration into Glasgow in the 1920s, when many new immigrants borrowed goods on credit from established wholesale businesses and travelled to rural areas to sell them. In the second novel, The Liberation of Celia Kahn, David explores Jewish involvement in 1920s 'Red Clydeside' before Celia emigrates to a fledgling kibbutz in Palestine. It is there that she meets the main protagonist of final novel in the trilogy, The Land Agent, which is centred around the discovery of a strategic piece of land by a tributary of the River Jordan that doesn't exist on any map. David’s trilogy mirrored the immigration story of several members of the audience and there was a lively discussion after each of the talks. 

Being Jewish in Inverness

At each event we met Jewish people who had never previously attended a Jewish gathering in Scotland. One lady who had lived locally for 26 years chose to ‘come out’ to her neighbours as Jewish for the first time. And one man had lived in Inverness for 18 years thinking he was probably the only Jewish person there! At each venue we were also joined by non-Jewish people with an interest in Judaism, who wanted to demonstrate their support for the community and remind us that we are not alone. Many of these also had their own stories to tell of being a minority – as a Catholic, as an older single woman, as a newcomer, or as a ‘native Highlander’ – showing us that the Jewish experience of ‘difference’ is not unique.

Despite the serious topics discussed, everyone commented on the warm, welcoming atmosphere at all the discussions. As we intended when we undertook this inquiry, bringing Jewish people and others together to discuss these issues helps to create community, build connections, and make people feel safer and more secure – and this was certainly helped by the smoked salmon bagels, pickled herring, and strudels!

We would like to thank Debby Taylor and the committee of Aberdeen Hebrew Congregation, Julie Corcoran and staff at Inverness Library, and Joan Michael and staff at The Ceilidh Place Ullapool, for their help in arranging these events.


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Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation no. SC029438